PA School District Spent $1.3M Taxpayer Dollars On Union Salaries

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Three Pennsylvania residents filed a lawsuit Wednesday over a practice that allows a union president to receive school district salary and benefits despite working full-time for the union.

Steven Ramos and Scott Armstrong argue in their lawsuit that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund union activities, and was filed against the Allentown Education Association (AEA) and the Allentown School District (ASD) — which allow the practice. The union president has been able to collect a salary and benefits from the district despite working full-time for the union.

“There is nothing in the Allentown education code which allows for this,” lawyer Karin Sweigart told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “So we’re making the case this practice is illegal.”

The education code dictates what the union and school district have the authority to do, and Sweigart notes taxpayers are essentially funding a private organization since labor unions are not public entities. The Fairness Center, a nonprofit law firm, is helping represent district residents in the case. The group also sued the Philadelphia school district a year ago for its release time policy.

“We have no problem with the union having a president, we just don’t think taxpayers should have to pay for it,” Sweigart noted. “It doesn’t make sense for taxpayer dollars to go to a private organization.”

The union has had a few presidents over the years who have utilized release time. The Fairness Center found through a public information request that the policy has cost the school district more than $1.3 million since 2000. Current union president Deb Tretter made $126,722 after benefits in just the past year.

Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the parent union to the local association, asserts the lawsuit is an unjust attack on teachers. PSEA Spokesman David Broderic notes the practice is beneficial for both teachers and their students.

“This is a nuisance suit filed by a right-wing group that exists to harass educators,” Broderic told TheDCNF. “Deb Tretter has spent a lifetime serving kids.”

Broderic added the policy is fairly negotiated by the union and district in their labor agreement. The president doesn’t just serve union members, but also helps advocate for their students and the school district. PSEA has not yet responded to the lawsuit, but Broderic notes it’s likely they will challenge it.

Republican Pennsylvania state Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Jim Christiana unveiled legislation Oct. 21 to end the practice for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school. The bill was in response to the early lawsuit from the The Fairness Center. The Commonwealth Foundation found that Philadelphia teachers doing union work made $1.7 million in taxpayer-funded pay in 2014 and $36 million since 2003.

The practice also exists on the federal level where it is known as official time. Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, found it cost the federal government at least $1 billion between 1998 and 2013. The exact amount may be much higher due to inaccurate recordkeeping and a lack of transparency.

Official time may have also played a major role in the recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2014 report from the Capital Research Center found that many veterans may have died as a result of healthcare officials utilizing official time.

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